Friday, May 29, 2009

Year End Dinner

Next Thursday, June 4th, marks a very important event at Cabrini Connections. It's our annual year end dinner celebration, which brings together students, alumni, potential students, mentors, staff and donors together along with their friends and family, for an evening of free food, entertainment and celebration! Longtime volunteer Courtland Madock along with her Year-End Dinner Committee have put together another great night for everyone and I wanted to make sure that you knew that you are personally invited to attend. This event is open to the public and is a great opportunity to connect with everyone whose involvement makes our program possible. Last year I attended the year-end dinner before I started working here and was very impressed by the diverse mix of attendees and presenters. Alumni and current students alike spoke to the value of our program and how it has positively influenced their lives, parents of students and alumni gave testimony to the effectiveness of the mentoring relationships that we facilitate between their children and our volunteer mentors and

This year current students Victoria Rivera, Raheem Muhammed and Ashaunti Roby will serve as the evening's MCs, again introducing inspirational alumni and parent speakers. The writing club will be debuting a short play that they have been working on and our Youth Leadership Council will premiere a short documentary about the history of Cabrini Connections, shot with the assistence of professional videographers Matt Lauterbach and Dinesh Sabu. The theme of this year's dinner is "Hope, Build, Believe, and Achieve" and you can easily RSVP online here, so please join us. The dinner will be taking place at the Cornerstone Academy banquet facility, which is located at 1111 N Wells. Dinner will last from 5:30-8 and those over 21 will continue the night at Spoon, located across the street at 1240 N Wells St. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Last Wednesday and Thursday, dozens of our students cruised out of our last night of tutoring in style, with their very own bikes, locks and helmets. In an effort to get our students more engaged in our various enrichment curricula and to help us determine the impact of our program on our students' academic performance, we offered to give a free bike to each and every student who earned more than 400 points last quarter. Students earn points through their attendence at our weekly tutoring sessions and attending our clubs, which meet 3 nights a week: Art club on Monday, Tech club on Tuesday and Writing club on Wednesday. Students also receive points every time they enter data in our "Student and Volunteer History and Tracking System" (more popularly known as SVHATS) which helps EL Da'Sheon and I to keep tabs on all of our mentor/mentee matches. Most importantly, students also earn points for bringing their report cards to tutoring and earn additional points for every A, B and C on their report cards. One of the primary goals of this bike promotion was to get more data about our students' grades so we can determine the impact that their involvement in our program has had on their academic performance.

We received donated bikes from two non-profit bike cooperatives, Evanston's "Recyclery" and The Working Bikes Cooperative. Both organizations utilize volunteer bike mechanics to assemble bikes from spare and discarded parts. They then donate large quantities of these bikes to organizations in countries with high rates of poverty, such as Angola, Guatemala and Cuba, that use the bikes to empower local communities. Some of their bikes make it to local organziations such as Cabrini Connections and we are very thankful for the generosity of both organizations. In addition to donating a large number of bikes, Working Bikes also donated a dozen or so helmets to ensure our kids keep their brains safe while riding their new bikes! Through some independent fundraising, I have been able to secure some donations for additional helmets and locks so that every kid received a lock, however, any additional financial contributions would be much appreciated to help offset the cost of these pricy (but essential) accessories.

So, I just wanted to take this opportunity to sincerely thank Sharlyn at The Recyclery and Raul at Working Bikes for all the time and effort they spent ensuring that our kids received the quality bikes that they deserve for all their hard work and dedication to our program and their own futures. Thanks again!

2009 May Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference

Just wanted to remind you that our Annual May Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference will be taking place this upcoming Thursday and Friday at The Northwestern University School of Law from 9-4:30 both days. Registration will begin at 8:00am both days and I strongly encourage all of you who have any interest in what I've been writing about over the past year to come out and meet/learn from others who are exceedingly passionate about helping at-risk youth succeed through involvement with constantly improving tutoring/mentoring programs. Though the majority of attendees are involved with leading or supporting Chicagoland tutor/mentor programs, year after year folks come from far and wide to connect with others and learn ways to become more effective advocates for youth tutoring/mentoring initiatives of all stripes. From learning strategies to engage the resources of university communities to build your program to sharing effective fundraising strategies to weather the current financial storm, there are workshops and speakers that will interest anyone looking to make a difference in a child's life. So, I encourage all of you to please check out our conference website at
and register. If the $100 2 day advance registration fee would otherwise prevent you from attending, give Nicole White, who coordinates both our conference and the Tutor/Mentor Connection, a call at 312-492-9614 to discuss some scholarship options.

Even if you can only make it for one day, the conference is all about connecting people with the resources they need to run and support constantly improving youth tutor/mentor programs everywhere where there is need. So please join us! We want to hear your experiences, your ideas and your perspective.

See you then!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Student Spotlight: Gregory Hatchett

Gregory Hatchett, a Junior at Rauner College Prep, has been with Cabrini Connections since the 7th grade. He’s currently paired up with longtime volunteer Mike Jozwik. Gregory is certain that he wants to go to college after he graduates and even knows where: Mississippi State University. He is very excited at the prospect of attending a historically black college, and not only because he won’t have to deal with the Chicago winters anymore! He’s learned a lot about the University from his cousin who is currently a student there and knows that it will be a great place to prepare for his two potential career paths: graphic design or law (at this point he’s undecided). Gregory has loved to draw for as long as he can remember and continues to fill notebook after notebook with his signature mix of graffiti and Japanese anime stylings. He’s been actively involved with the art club over the past few years, which has helped him to hone his craft outside of the countless hours he spends on his own working on his art. In fact his artwork has graced the walls of numerous Chicago-area galleries through his participation in our Annual Cabrini Connections Art and Film Festival. Eventually, he hopes to use his talents to make his own series of comic books, inspired by some of his favorites such as classic DC comics such as spiderman and superman.

On the other hand, if Gregory decides to commit himself to studying law, he hopes to eventually be able to help people coming from low-income neighborhoods like Cabrini Green navigate the IRS’ complex webs of tax code. He realizes that these individuals often don’t have the resources to hire accountants to help them identify the various tax breaks and loopholes that that may qualify for and that consequently, these individuals often are shouldered with unfair tax burdens. He is also considering injury law because he has experienced firsthand the need for lawyers in low-income communities to help people with injuries and disabilities fight for their rights to fair compensation and not be intimidated, like his father was, into working while injured. Cabrini Connections salutes Gregory and his desire to help others! Hopefully his desires will become a reality and we can stay in contact throughout his college years and as he enters the working world!

Volunteer Spotlight: Courtland Madock

This week we’d like to bring one of our “behind the scenes” volunteers to the fore, and give her the recognition she deserves for all her hard work and commitment to our program.  In her 5 years volunteering at Cabrini Connections, Courtland Madock has mentored 3 students, including Diara Fleming, who will be graduating from Northern Illinois University this year with a degree in Family and Child Nutrition Services and aspirations to attend nursing school in the fall.  After working together at Cabrini Connections during Diara’s Junior year, they developed a strong enough mentoring relationship so that when Diara couldn’t attend the program her senior year because she got a job working for Cabrini Green Tutoring Program, they still stayed connected and were able to work together to guarantee Diara’s admission to college.  Courtland describes her relationship with Diara as “super close, she’s like family”.  Even today, they still talk a half dozen or so times a week!

Courtland is no stranger to reaching out to others in need, in fact she grew up surrounded by foster children in her own house growing up.  During her college years at the University of Iowa she mentored 3 kids through Big Brothers Big Sisters.  However, these days her biggest contribution to our youth is the role she plays as the coordinator of our Annual Year-End Dinner.  She started helping to organize the event 5 years ago and has been the primary coordinator for the last 3.  For Courtland the year-end dinner is one of the highlights of her year.  In her view it’s a great event because it “brings a very unique group together who wouldn’t otherwise come together”. She’s always happy to see the way students, volunteers, staff, donors, family and friends can mingle at the year-end dinner, connected by their participation in Cabrini Connections.  Unlike some of our other events, Courtland prides herself on the fact that the focus is on the kids, not wooing corporate sponsors or big donors.  Despite this, last year’s event managed to raise $13,000 for our program, something she’s working hard to repeat this year!  We agree with Courtland when she says that the event is getting better and better each year and that this is in large part due to the fact that she gains more and more knowledge and expertise each year, so that she is able to focus on the little things that make the event great rather than worrying about basics such as getting food or searching for a suitable space to hold the event. Additionally, due to the marketing savvy she’s gained at her job managing product strategy for US Cellular and the Kellogg MBA coursework that fills her nights, Courtland clearly has what it takes to pull off a big event like our Year-End Dinner.  We’re so happy that she’s taken such a leadership role and has been able to put her unique talents to use.  Now come see all her hard work in person by attending our Year-End Dinner, which will take place from 5:30-8 on June 4th at 1111 N Wells.   See you there!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

PIP and P55 Seminar at Cabrini Connections, The Tutor/Mentor Connection

This Wednesday, PIP and P55 fellows from Princeton, Northwestern, University of Chicago and Colorado College will be taking a break from the daily grind at their respective non-profits/community organizations to find out a bit about what we do here at Cabrini Connections, The Tutor/Mentor Connection. So, I thought that I would provide a road map to our discussion here on my blog with the links that we plan on referring to during our presentation, so that interested fellows can easily find and share the information we present with others or return to articles/web sites that they find particularly interesting.

I kick things off by talking about a bit of our history which can be found on the website if you click on the "about us" tab on the left side of the page.

A detailed organizational history can be found here.

I continue on to discuss our strategy for making a life-changing difference in the lives of youth living all across the city and how that manifests itself at both a local and a global level, making use of some graphics found on our site, which is an information hub that helps build a convergence of ideas and strategies, resulting in constantly improving tutor/mentor programs being available to more youth in high-poverty neighborhoods.

This pdf essay explains the logic of the Tutor/Mentor Connection.

Next, former PIP fellow and Tutor/Mentor Connection Coordinator, Nicole White discusses our four-part strategy for accomplishing this mission.

1) Collect knowledge from key stakeholders about volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs: how programs succeed, where programs are located, and where more programs and resources are needed.

2) Aggressively share this knowledge through marketing and public awareness campaigns, capitalizing on the Internet as a chief vehicle of communication.

3) Strengthen involvement of community and industry leaders to increase essential resources to tutor/mentor programs.

4) Facilitate understanding and collaboration among stakeholders to develop the long-term, integrated actions needed to help youths move from birth in poverty to a job or career by age 25.

Mike Trakan explains our innovative use of GIS mapping:

Mike's Mapping for Justice Blog:

I discuss our utilization of "social media" and how we create evangelists for our cause:

Chris’ PIP blog

Nicole’s Tutor/Mentor Connection blog

Dan Bassill’s Tutor/Mentor Leadership blog

EL Da’Sheon’s Cabrini Connections blog

Vjeko's eLearning and Technology blog

Engaging Northwestern Students via:

Sharing tutoring/mentoring leadership strategies via: (just search “tutor mentor”)

Forces For Good: Building and Nurturing Nonprofit Networks

Tutor/Mentor Connection Founder and CEO Dan Bassill (aka my boss) recently shared some interesting research findings in his blog:

About a decade ago, researchers from The University of Chicago's Chapin Hall Center for Children analyzed the Tutor/Mentor Connection and concluded:

"The Tutor/Mentor Connection may be particularly difficult to understand because it does not easily fit within known categories of organizations. It provides some of the supports that a membership organization or association would -- such as its newsletter, conference, and public relations efforts-- but it doesn't charge a membership fee or offer a membership identity. It also provides some of the matching services that volunteer associations provide and some of the technical assistance provided by organizations that do training and management consulting but without the fee sometimes charged by such consultants. Moreover, T/MC's citywide mission to not only support programs, but to increase their numbers, sets it apart from other types of programs."

Having recently read Forces For Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits, I noticed that the 4th practice that they identify as being essential for non-profits to achieve "extraordinary impact" is that they "build and nurture nonprofit networks, treating other groups as allies". The organizations that the authors determined to be "high-impact" non-profits through their research, organizations such as Youthbuild USA, The Heritage Foundation, The Exploratorium and Teach for America, were found to have a "network mind-set", rather than the more common "organization orientation". In other words, successful organizations in the social sector collaborate rather than compete with their peers. They see other organizations as allies rather than competition for scarce resources and that only through working collaboratively can they achieve maximum impact. The authors identified the following 4 common practices of "high impact" nonprofits, which I think can be identified in our own organization, The Tutor/Mentor Connection as well. Though it may be a bit presumptuous to say so, I do feel that some of the difficulty that people have in adequately understanding The Tutor/Mentor Connection stems from the fact that we do operate differently from most other non-profits, but this is a good thing, something that distinguishes us from other non-profits because of the systemic impact we are trying to achieve. So here are the 4 tactics that high-impact nonprofits utilize to maximize their impact through their networks, according to "Forces for Good".

-Growing the pie: Successful organizations focus on channeling valuable resources to fellow organizations and expanding resources for all programs rather than hording them just to grow their own organization. They want to grow resources for all programs because it increases their overall impact. We have done this through our role in developing the Lawyers Lend a Hand program which funds dozens of programs around the city.

-Share Knowledge: High-Impact nonprofits "actively share their knowledge and expertise with other organizations". We do this through our biannual conferences and our numerous websites, most importantly and We also make ourselves available, as the Chapin Hall researchers mentioned, for technical assistance and managerial consulting work.

-Develop Leadership: "These organizations develop leadership for the larger network, field, or movement, nurturing talented employees and developing the next generation of leadership. They magnify their impact indirectly, increasing both the personnel capacity of other organizations and their own social connections within their network." I think that the PIP fellowship clearly falls within this category. My supervisors Dan Bassill, EL Da'Sheon Nix and Nicole White have done much to develop my skills, knowledge and capacity to serve as a leader and advocate for youth tutoring/mentoring wherever my career might take me. This investment in a fellow like myself who will only stay with the organization for a year is clearly a forward-thinking investment in me as a lifelong potential change-agent, and not simply as an employee of The Tutor/Mentor Connection. In addition, The T/MC is constantly publishing material on our websites, sharing leadership strategies online and at our biannual conferences.

-Work in Coalitions: "Once these groups have built formal or informal networks, they go beyond their inner circle to form larger coalitions and mobilize their network for collective aims. They work in coalition with others, playing both lead and secondary roles, and they share the credit for their successes." This tendency to build coalitions is a definite character trait of Tutor/Mentor Connection Founder Dan Bassill and the organization as a whole. In my experience with our organization, everything from our conference planning, to volunteer recruitment to training volunteer tutors is seen as an opportunity for massive collaboration between every tutor/mentor program in the city, not just something for us to do well on our own.

As you can see, The Tutor/Mentor Connection does indeed have a network orientation as an organization and this is a good thing, despite the fact that it makes our organization a bit more difficult to explain to your average joe on the street/potential funder. For more info about our ideas about collaboration check out and here in particular. Also, check out these past blog posts that relate to the idea of collaboration

-Organizational Silos and effective collaboration

-Collaboration between Tutor/Mentor Programs

Monday, May 11, 2009

Volunteer Spotlight: Autumn Sharp

First year mentor Autumn Sharp has worked diligently with not one, but two students this year. She started the year with Senior, Terrisha Brownlow and after she left the program, she kindly stuck around as a substitute mentor until she was finally paired up a few months ago with Kanah Bradley, a sophomore at Von Steuben High School. Though she now works as a lawyer at Much Shelist, immediately after graduating from Ohio University she worked as a junior high and high school teacher. Her time spent in Columbus, OH classrooms teaching students with developmental handicaps and learning disabilities served to further develop her passion for helping youth succeed. About her current student Kanah, she says “I’m so happy to be working with someone who definitely has a bright future. We’re working to make it even brighter!”

Autumn is in a great position to do this as an attorney working for Much Shelist since her student Kanah is also interested in becoming a lawyer. In fact, Autumn has known that she wanted to go to law school since she was 11 years old! She attributes her early interest in the law to the amount of Cagney and Lacey she watched when she was a girl. Not wanting her daughter to be shot on the job working as a private investigator, Autumn’s mother strongly encouraged her to consider seeking justice in the courtroom as a lawyer rather than in the streets as a police detective like her childhood television heroes, detectives Christine Cagney and Mary Beth Lacey.

Now intimately familiar with the day to day life as an attorney, Autumn is eager to share her knowledge and experiences with Kanah, so that she’ll be in a better position to make an informed decision about her own career. However, Autumn is careful not to push her too hard in one direction or the other since she realizes that Kanah may very well take a different path than the one that she herself took. For this reason, Autumn is already thinking about setting up some job shadowing opportunities for Kanah, who is also entertaining thoughts of practicing medicine, this summer with an Ob/Gyn and a family practice doctor that she knows.

After mentoring at Cabrini Connections for less than a year, Autumn is already committed to helping to sustain our program into the future by assisting with fundraising. Now that she has a good grasp on the life-changing difference our program can make in the lives of kids and adults alike, she wants to take the next step and try to bring us some much-needed resources by fundraising through her personal and professional networks. We very much appreciate efforts like these and for your continued dedication to our program. Congratulations Autumn, you certainly deserve the volunteer spotlight!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Student Spotlight: Marquita Fisher

Chicago Hope Academy 9th grader Marquita Fisher has been in our program since she graduated from her YMCA mentoring program and started here as a 7th grader back in 2006. At her YMCA program, she was paired up with Kiera Kelly. Referring to their first few mentoring sessions, Marquita explains “we clicked right away—she understood me”. Luckily their relationship grew strong enough that when Marquita’s K-6 program at the YMCA ended, Kiera agreed to stay with her and work together at Cabrini Connections where they continue to build their mentoring relationship to this day. In Marquita’s 8th grade year, she and Kiera discussed what high school she should attend. After attending LaFayette Elementary School on the west side it would have been easy for her to attend her neighborhood school, Manley. However, Kiera encouraged her to strive to attend the best possible high school she could, so she ended up applying and gaining admission to Chicago Hope Academy, a private college prep school blocks from where she stays on the West side.

The shift to the more rigorous workload of a college prep school like Chicago Hope Academy was difficult at first, particularly in math, but with Kiera’s encouragement, Marquita has been staying after school and working with her teachers to ensure she understands all the material and gets all her work done on time.

However, Marquita realizes that all this hard work is for a purpose. After graduating High School she intends to enroll in an out-of-state university and study psychology or social work. She has known for a while that she wants to do some sort of counseling for a career since she often finds herself counseling her friends and family through difficult times. Through relating other people’s struggles with her own, Marquita finds that she can relate with people well, both youth and adults. She hopes that eventually she can use this gift to help others cope with difficult situations as a professional counselor. Just this past week in the Cabrini Connections College Zone, Marquita and Kiera met with our own college zone advisors Carla and Stephanie to discuss the wide variety of careers that she could explore that involve counseling others through difficult times.

When not exploring careers or working on school projects, Marquita and Kiera enjoy spending time together outside of our Wed night tutoring sessions. For example, they always celebrate their birthdays, which are only 2 days apart, June 21st and June 19th respectively, by going out on the town together. In the past they’ve gone to Dave and Busters, Six Flags, Safari Land, and all sorts of other fun places where they can enjoy each others company. Since Marquita describes herself as a “cool, outgoing person that likes to have fun”, they surely have a great time. Once again, congratulations Marquita on earning the student spotlight. Keep up the great work!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Student Spotlight: Josue Roque

Salazar Elementary seventh-grader Josue Roque has been with our program for just a couple months but he has already distinguished himself by his respectful demeanor and perfect attendance. Upon joining the program, he has met with his mentor, Rajul Shah, every single week, bringing homework and working productively each and every time. Lately they’ve been working on a debate project and studying for his constitution test, which he must pass to graduate. Though he acknowledges that he will have to study a lot more, he’s been feeling much more confident recently after working through it with Rajul. Speaking about his mentor, Josue states “I think he’s helped me a lot, he’s a great mentor and he makes sure that everything he does, I’m sure about. He doesn’t just give me the answers, he makes sure that I get everything and don’t miss anything.”

Josue is a very well-rounded student. Though his favorite class at school is language arts and social studies, mainly because he likes his teacher’s style of relating to the students, his real passions lie in math and science. In fact, Josue was selected by his math and science teachers as one of 3 7th graders in the entire school that will have the opportunity to attend a 2 week long math and science summer camp at Northern Illinois University. There, they will be working on experiments in real research laboratories at NIU, which he is very excited about.

When he’s not studying, Josue enjoys playing football and soccer in his neighborhood park down in Little Village, which he plans to do a lot of this summer. He also plans to help out at his school to see if they need his help cleaning or with odds and ends this summer. However, his highlight of the year is always when his family travels down to Ciudad Juarez on the US-Mexico border to visit his extended family who still live in Mexico. After his 8th grade year, he hopes to attend either Whitney Young, or Cristo Rey high schools. He’s particularly interested in Cristo Rey because there, he believes he will “learn how to be responsible, get jobs at real companies and work off the tuition”, through their innovative Corporate Internship Program. This program allows low-income students to earn 65% of the cost of their education by working five full days each month in entry-level positions at corporations in downtown Chicago such as Deloitte & Touche, JP Morgan Chase and Loyola University Health System. Even as a seventh-grader, it’s clear that Josue is thinking about his future in a very real and engaged way. We’re looking forward to working with him and Rajul to help his dreams become a reality. Congratulations Josue!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Volunteer Spotlight: Mike Kolberg

Though Mike Kolberg has only been with our program for a year, he’s been one of our most committed mentors. In fact, he was the only mentor to meet with his student, Savon Clark, regularly all summer long in our center. They met weekly to ensure that Savon entered his 8th grade year well-prepared for his challenging math coursework. Thanks to their dedication, Savon is now aiming for an A in math this quarter, which Mike is doing his best to help him achieve.

Over the past year, Mike has found working with Savon very rewarding. He’s glad that, thanks to the work they put in over the summer and their shared commitment to the mentoring relationship, they’ve been able to jump to addressing “higher level stuff” and don't have to worry about attendance or staying focused during their time together. Their usual coursework still includes a lot of math, but they also spend time working on Savon’s science homework. Luckily, Mike’s engineering degree from University of Illinois imparted him with all the knowledge he needs to be an excellent math and science tutor for Savon. However, despite his degree, Mike is not working as an engineer, but rather as a consultant for Zurich where he enjoys working with people, helping them manage risk at their companies, which he much prefers to sitting in front of a computer designing things as he would have done if he followed a more traditional engineering career path. When he’s not working, his favorite pastimes include watersports up at his favorite Wisconsin getaway, Pleasant Lake, where he boats and water skis.

We are so glad that Mike is happy with his involvement here at Cabrini Connections with Savon. In fact, Mike recently expressed how pleased he his to be volunteering someplace where “everyone is so involved and consistently dedicated to the program”. Additionally, in an effort to be a more effective mentor, Mike has reached out to Savon’s family and makes an effort to keep in contact with his father at least once a week after their tutoring sessions. He recently attended a dinner at Savon’s house where his father assembled all of the caring adults in Savon’s life and introduced them to one-another, so that they might be a more effective network of support for Savon as he enters high school next year. With Savon’s exceptional grades and dedication to the program so far as proof, it’s clear that Mike is doing an excellent job. Congratulations Mike and keep up the great work!